Kids Corner

Above: Sardarnis doing Guru Granth Sahib seva. Photo: courtesy - Gurumustuk Singh. Below, 1st from bottom - sangat at prayer. 2nd: Receiving an award, alongwith Marathoner Fauja Singh, in Washington D.C. 3rd - Manjyot Kaur.

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The Joy & Challenges of Being a Sikh Woman

by MANJYOT KAUR

 

Having been born into a family of another faith, my spiritual journey along the path of Sikhism obviously did not begin along with my very first steps.

Growing up in New York City, I learned that the turbanned and bearded gentlemen I saw with increasing frequency were followers of a unique religion called Sikhi (as Sikhism is often referred to by its adherents) - a faith that arose during the 15th century in the Punjab region of India - and not Hindus or Muslims.

But I certainly never imagined that, a few decades later, in my mid-40s, I would joyously embrace Sikhi and become one of the 25 million members of the Sikh faith, the world's fifth largest religion.

My "date with destiny" arrived quite unannounced one evening via the Internet, during research I was doing on a topic of interfaith significance. My initial reaction to Sikhi was absolute love at first sight; I felt instantly magnetized, both intellectually and emotionally.

As I began to insatiably devour everything I could find about Sikhi, I was entranced to encounter it not as an esoteric conglomeration of rigid do's-and-don'ts, but a vibrant spiritual path, universal and timeless.

Like Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Sikhi is a totally monotheistic religion.

The three pillars of the Sikh faith - always keeping God in one's mind and heart, earning an honest livelihood, and sharing one's resources with all those in need - struck me as a simple, rational and relevant "blueprint for everyday life" as an actively engaged, fully contributing member of contemporary society.

The fundamental teachings that Waheguru (as Sikhs refer to God) is an all-pervading Deity, not one limited to any creed, nation, race, color or gender, and that human life is a unique opportunity to discover and nurture the Divine Light residing within all Creation, tremendously appealed to me. I also found the emphasis placed on performing selfless volunteer service quite compelling.

Among the many amazingly revolutionary precepts put forth by Guru Nanak, the founder of the faith, and reinforced by the nine Gurus that succeeded him, was the concept of complete gender equality. As a woman, I derived enormous satisfaction from learning that Sikhi accords both sexes the exact same status before God, as well as equal access to scriptures and to positions of Sikh religious and political authority.

As my nascent attraction ripened into a life-altering spiritual quest, I began delving into the exquisite poetic text of Guru Granth Sahib, the compilation of sacred writings imbued with the status of a living, eternal Guru by the tenth and last human Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, in 1708.

Exploring these soul-captivating scriptures and trying to incorporate their teachings into my life connected me with the Divine like never before.

I knew then that I had arrived at one of those "points of no return" that occur so infrequently over a lifetime: my journey of becoming a Sikh had begun.

In order for my bond to be more than just a private, internal one, I knew a solemn, public commitment was necessary. My desire to become a legitimate, recognizable member of the Sikh people, inextricably linked to its history and heritage, finally came to fruition one April morning.

With Waheguru's Grace, on the day before Vaisakhi, a holiday that commemorates the 1699 founding of the Sikh nation by Guru Gobind Singh, I was formally initiated into my chosen faith.

While the joys of being a Sikh woman are many, so are the challenges. Here are just a few examples.

Celebrating the Gurus' gift of complete gender equality entails being vigilant against any forms of discrimination or other encroachment upon women's rights, whether stemming from the mores of the traditional Punjabi or the Indian sub-continental culture in which Sikhi arose, or elsewhere.

Finding ways to effectively educate the public-at-large about Sikhi and Sikhs' distinctive physical appearance is essential to countering the misinformation and intolerance leading to bullying of Sikh schoolchildren and cases of mistaken identity, which, especially after 9/11 (turban-wearing Sikhs being equated with terrorists), have had violent, even deadly consequences.

Following the lifestyle of a committed Sikh includes regarding the body as a Divine creation and keeping all hair fully intact, requiring acceptance of concepts of beauty that do not always conform to society's notions of femininity.

Embodying the power, grace and dignity inherent in the name given to all Sikh females - Kaur, meaning "princess" - is a challenge we Sikh women successfully face every day.

I feel truly blessed to be one!

 

[Manjyot Kaur is the Assistant Editor and a regular columnist for the online magazine sikhchic.com. Besides appearing on this and other Sikh-related websites, her book reviews and essays have also been published in Nishaan, The Sikh Review, and Abstracts of Sikh Studies, and were used in conjunction with the materials developed for "Enlighten", the North American Library Project of the Sikh Coalition.]

Courtesy: The Washington Post. This article was originally written for the On Faith column of washingtonpost.com.

August 9, 2008

Conversation about this article

1: Bhavjit Singh (Singapore), August 09, 2008, 10:12 PM.

A truely inspiring article. The motivation to follow the Sikh way of life (Sikhi) has to come from within. However, it is every Sikh parent's duty to introduce their children to the divine teachings of Sikhi. There comes an age in every sikh child's life when he/she has to struggle to maintain his/her identity. It is only human for youngsters to try and adapt to the society they grow up in. Forgive my ignorance, but I wonder if Manjyot Kaur has written any essay, article or book on similar subject (motivating today's youth towards Sikhi). If not, then may I please request her to write something as I feel she has the capability to come out with a good guide for Sikh parents.

2: Jessi Kaur (California, U.S.A.), August 11, 2008, 9:48 AM.

I have been blessed to have Manjyot as the editor of "Dear Takuya" and have been touched by her dedication, sincerity and spirit of true service. She took on the seva of editing the book at a time when she was going through serious health challenges but her hard work and commitment remained unwavered. While someone else would have wallowed in pain and self-pity, Manjyot, the true daughter of the Khalsa, was weeding out errors in the book with perseverance and painstaking diligence. Over the year that we have worked together, I consulted with her on many issues related to the book and benefitted tremendously from her advice on how to tackle core issues related to Sikhi. Manjyot, today, is more than an editor par-excellence of my book. She has become my sister, my close friend. I truly feel that she has come in my life as a gift from my Guru. Nay, she is a gift for the entire community and I am blessed to have a close personal relationship with her. I, too, am waiting for her to write her own book. In the meantime, she is inspiring all of us with the depth of her love and understanding of Sikhi that shines in her articles.

3: Tejwant (U.S.A.), August 11, 2008, 12:31 PM.

Your inner quest to love and find ways to breed goodness within has brought you to Sikhi. I have always enjoyed the depth in your articles and reviews. You have made me a better Sikh with your outlook and I thank you for that.

4: Inderjeet Singh (India), August 17, 2008, 7:52 AM.

I really like the way Manjyot has presented her views. I would also like to say that I am inspired by her article and my loss of faith in the direction some of our men and women are heading, has really been restored after listening to her views.

5: Harjinder Singh (India), August 18, 2008, 3:34 AM.

Just awsome. I am blessed that I have a sister like Manjyot Kaur. My prayers to Waheguru that she keeps writing such wonderful pieces which will keep shaking us up and waking the conscience of those Sikhs who have lost direction due to various reasons.

6: Kanwal Jit Kaur (India), August 21, 2008, 8:38 PM.

Inspiring and motivational piece of writing, especially at this time when many of us are losing sight of the path. It is all Waheguru's kirpa on Manjyot Kaur. May this help the coming generation to realize that they have valuable treasure of Guru Granth Saheb; numerous great Sikh men and women played a glorious part in Sikh history and will continue doing so in times to come.

7: Baljeet Singh (Chandigarh, Punjab), August 29, 2008, 7:57 AM.

Sikhi is of three types .10 Sikhi bhekh di - [bhekhi moorakh sikh wali] - a Sikh who does not know about the Sikhi but only wears the Sikh uniform. 2) Sikhi dekh di - a Sikh who has adopted Sikhi but still does not know about the depth of it. 3) Sikhi lekh di - a Sikh who is blessed with Sikhi by his karma. He is blessed with Sikhi from birth. He is destined to be a Sikh of the almighty. Dear sister, you are one of the latter. May Wheguru bless you with everything. The enviorment of bhekhi and dekhi Sikhs in punjab is really disheartning. After reading your article, I am proud that my Guru has blessed us with a sister like you upon whom we can look to for more answers. Please keep writing ...

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